Human Rights Council holds debate on combating racism
Thursday, 24 June 2010 10:41


The Human Rights Council (the Council) discussed its agenda entitled ‘racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance: follow-up to and implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action’, on 15 and 16 June. In departure from past practice, the Council started with a general debate on 15 June, and held its interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on racism and the Chairperson of the Working Group of experts on people of African descent the following day. Mr Muigai presented his latest report (A/HRC/14/43) and the missions undertaken in 2009 to Germany (A/HRC/14/43/Add.2) and to the United Arab Emirates (A/HRC/14/43/Add.3). Ms Verene Shepherd, the chairperson of the Working Group presented the Council with an overview of the latest report from the Working Group (A/HRC/14/18). Her main points included the remaining double legacy of slavery and colonialism, and the success of General Assembly Resolution 64/169, which announced 2011 as the International Year for People of African Descent. Although most States commented on racism in general, the report of the Special Rapporteur attracted significantly more attention than that of the Working Group.


Nigeria (on behalf of the African Group) noted concern over the lack of ‘political tenacity’ from some governments on the issues of discrimination and intolerance. Nigeria further indicated the dire need for cooperation between national human rights institutions and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The African Group further claimed the Special Rapporteur's report implied Africa was the centre of discrimination. In his response, Mr Muigai made it clear that Africa is not specifically highlighted, but that ‘there is not a continent, region or country in which racism is not a continuing problem’.


Pakistan (on behalf of the OIC) focused primarily on discrimination based on religion (Islam), and the rise of ‘Islamophobia’. It claimed that ‘defamation of religion’ has increased, and is a contemporary manifestation of intolerance, and can not be accepted as a form of exercising freedom of expression. The debate around 'defamation of religion' was, however, much more limited than at the Council's previous sessions. Mr Muigai explained that Islamaphobia was not included in the current report, as he already reported on the phenomenon during the 12th session of the Council. An update of his previous report will be presented to the 15th session of the Council in September 2010.


Although most States welcomed the report of the Special Rapporteur, some critical remarks were heard. In particular, his affirmation that the identity of a person is influenced by ‘multiple of components, such as gender, age, nationality, profession, sexual orientation, political opinion, religious affiliation and social origin’ drew significant criticism. Several States, including South Africa, Egypt and the Sudan, objected to the inclusion of sexual orientation as part of an individual’s identity in Mr Muigai’s analysis. The most pronounced and yet surprising critique came from South Africa. Although its constitution explicitly prohibits discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, it argued that the Special Rapporteur’s approach ‘demeans the legitimate plight of the victims of racism’.


Other criticism came from Cuba, which objected to the use of the term ‘responsibility to protect’, claiming that there is no agreement on the meaning of this term. Cote d’Ivoire regretted that the Special Rapporteur’s report in reference to the country was based on information from the visit by his predecessor and not his own facts.


In his closing remarks Mr Muigai indicated his wishes to maintain a degree independence from the Council to interpret information and law freely, yet hopes the Council will provide more funding to ensure his work can continue to its fullest. Ms Verene Shepherd, in her answers, invited the full participation of  NGOs and civil society in combating the trend of ‘Afrophobia’. She indicated education as the best place to start rooting out discrimination against people of African descent.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 25 August 2010 07:40
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